Design duo Beth Field and Emily Lyon Allen
I first got to know interior designer Emily Lyon Allen through mutual friends. We had all worked at David Easton. Emily and I did not overlap, but had a great many talented design friends in common. She has always had fantastic taste, and when she started a new design duo with vintage furniture guru Beth Field, I knew it was worth paying attention to. I was thrilled when they asked me to be their High Point Market concierge, where I planned the trip, and took them on a whirlwind design tour of must-see furniture spots, and I got the chance to know how fun they really are. These gals have the gift of gab, and when you are with them, there is nowhere else you'd rather be. Lyon Field has been in business for just under two years, and they have a range of work that makes it look as though they have been working together much longer. Their vibrant color use, dash of vintage whimsy, sophisticated details (they have a masterful way with trim on pillows), and sense of fun are ever present in the interiors they design. They split their time between Far Hills New Jersey and New York City, and have done homes for young families and empty nesters. As you will see, this design duo creates cozy, comfortable spaces in a fresh signature style that distinctly their own. Another emerging talent I deem worth watching, and I think you will agree.
Who did you work for and where did you study to learn the trade?
Emily: I was working at Vogue, thinking I'd landed exactly where I'd wanted to be. As much as I love fashion, I was consistently drawn further into the lifestyle and interior design elements of the magazine. So I enrolled at The New York School of Interior Design. That was an incredible experience. A whole lot harder than I'd imagined, but definitely solidified that I had found my true passion. During my final semester, I landed an interview with my dream design firm, David Easton. Even the Dean of Students told me to go ahead and take the job, even though I'd not finished my last couple courses. I learned so much in design school - but it's really the trial by fire training. There really is no substitute for on the job training…
Beth: I have only worked for me, myself and I! Like it that way… I truly just learned but watching and doing. Trial and error but always knowing what I love and going for it.
When did you know this was your calling in life?
E: My mom was an interior designer, so I was exposed early. But I was drawn to so many aspects of design, that I wanted to explore some other avenues for myself, before blindly striking out on that path. If I'd have been a betting person, I'd definitely have said I'd end up in interior design. But the slightly circuitous route served me well & certainly gave me confidence in my gut that "this is my calling"...
B: When my husband and I bought our 1700’s farm house in NJ, I fell in love with this place and wanted only to make it home – cozy and cheerful and the ultimate place to put your feet up. It belonged to a childhood friend of ours and I have always had a soft spot for it it – kind of a lifelong dream come true to live here. Designing it has been such a privilege and a pleasure that I fell for the process as much as I did for the house. Here I sit!
How did you know you were ready to strike out on your own, and when did you?
E: I struck out on my own, really out of not being able to step back into the traditional work schedule that exists in a big office, like the one I'd come from. I'd just had my second child in the span of 13 months, and knew I needed something to keep me in the game and also provide a bit of mental stimulation outside of diapers and sleep schedules! Beth and I were both in the same boat and always comparing notes. Both of us with separate thriving companies, it took a few years before we said, why not try some projects together? With the ever-changing landscape of this business, we figured why not go at it in another direction and start something new?
B: With a very busy family of five, I don’t think you are ever ready to take on a business venture. it’s enough on your plate just to run your home life in this day and age. But I dove in when a local shop-keeper and longtime friend asked me to design some furniture pieces for their expanding store, F. Gerald New, and I never looked back!
What advice do you have for others wanting to do the same?
E: You just have to go for it. It was a little tricky for us because we were close friends and weren't exactly sure how the work dynamic would go. As I said, we stuck our toes in with a couple of preliminary projects. From the get-go, the energy just worked. Recently, when being interviewed by a potential client, one reservation of hers was she'd only ever worked with a single designer. Never a "duo" - and she couldn't quite figure out how that was going to feel to her. I'm happy to report that we not only got the job - but she just wrote, the best note I've ever received (outside of maybe a love letter or Mother’s Day card from one of my boys!). Basically, she talked about having worked with a lot of designers in her day and this dynamic being a whole new energy, while also being incredibly professional. it's incredibly gratifying when a client feels it as well as appreciates and admires the magic of collaborative work.
B: Work is work – don’t kid yourself. Even if you adore what you do, they still call it work for a reason. But if you are passionate about something, whatever it may be, and you are not afraid to roll up your sleeves and make some sacrifices, go for it! It is a wonderful feeling at the end of the day to be able to build a business from scratch. Lots to be proud of.
Do you have formal training, or on the job training?
E: I suppose I can say formal. David Easton is one of the true masters of this time - and the experience of working for him, surrounded by all the incredible talent on his team, was both a dream come true and a steep learning curve. But again, it's all about on the job training. I was just incredibly lucky to have mine with him at the helm.
B: Noooooooo formal training. Learn by doing!
Do you have a signature look and how would you define it?
E: No matter what the palette or style - whether more traditional or more contemporary - I tend to like a lot of layers. Doesn't mean busy - but I think the layers are what takes a space from generic & flat to interesting & personal. So layers of textures, new, old, vintage, antique, high and low. And even though we are creating spaces for others to live in, we really focus on how to make it personal to them. To help them tell their story. Not ours.
B: Color is key – it doesn’t have to hit you over the head, but the warmth and personality it lends even in small doses is always there. Comfort and durability matter – nothing too precious. Interesting pieces and layouts that give spaces a personal rather than stoic feel are what so many of our clients are looking for, and we deliver!
What was the biggest surprise or challenge in starting your own firm?
E: The paperwork. MOUNDS of paperwork & red tape with multiple state licenses & opening new accounts with companies we've both worked with for 20 years. being that both of us are more creative types, neither of us can claim much talent in that area . So it's been a great exercise in learning to delegate. We've been incredibly fortunate to find some fantastic women to join our team, that actually excel in those areas that aren't our strong suits. They've taught us a lot and once again realize that with everything, it often takes a village!
B: Paperwork! Even in a creative capacity, some serious business acumen is in order. Ugh.
Do you have a design mentor?
E: Predictably, I would say my fabulous mother. She has always taught me that doing what other people are doing is never a good idea. March to the beat of your own drum and never take yourself too seriously. And then course, David (Easton).
B: So many amazingly talented designers out there – past and present – Billy Baldwin, Celerie Kemble, Katie Ridder... I could name many, many more. On a personal level though, I have to say my mother in law is a woman of great and true style. I have always admired her ability to set up with most inviting, cheerful and totally comfort driven spaces. I like how she rolls!
What did they teach you that you can't learn in design school?
E. Again, it's the trial by fire. The balance & practice of really listening to your clients and what THEY want. And then learning how to perhaps lead them somewhere outside of their comfort zone, by perhaps choosing to go in directions they've never gone in before. It's a delicate balance. But ultimately why clients are hiring you. They rarely want to just repeat the same old things - but it can be hard to make the shift sometimes. My undergrad degree in Social Work certainly has come in handy!
What is the most practical knowledge you learned from working for a master designer?
E: Good design is everywhere. At all levels and price-points. Right next to the Sotheby's and Christie’s catalogues on David's desk, was always one from IKEA as well. He really ingrained that in me.
What is the biggest challenge of being your own boss? Has that evolved from when you began?
E: The challenge is not having someone to look up to. Or someone who is emotionally invested in your success to offer constructive criticism. But that's the beauty of this "design duo" dynamic. Beth and I can be very honest with each other and keep each other on the straight and narrow.
B: Time management is such a struggle. When you run your own business, there is no one to stop or start the clock. I find that work seeps more and more into every minute of the time. Must learn to turn it off when I am needed elsewhere.
Whose work of the past do you hold in high regard?
E: Billy Baldwin. I'm constantly amazed at how fresh and relevant all of his work remains. I love how he could do quite pared down interiors, with solids and just beautiful lines to his pieces, but still very rich in subtle details. Then he would do another space with lots of pattern and color. I appreciate both and feel equally drawn to designing really lively, colorful spaces - and then other times, much more serene, paired down palettes.
B: Oh Billy Baldwin without question. Just a classic, classic genius. Can’t go wrong following his lead.
Where do you go for inspiration?
E: All over, really. Travel is my favorite excuse to get inspired. For instance, I recently went to Cuba. Talk about a feast for all your senses! I just try to always have my eyes open. And notice. Inspiration is everywhere...in fashion, art, architecture, nature, advertising, movies (especially old movies)...
B: Anywhere and everywhere. I am one a hundred percent split – country mouse, city mouse. Being so close to New York is the ultimate – inspiration literally everywhere in the greatest city in the world. All you have to do is be there and drink it in. But I equally love my little farm here and appreciate all the beauty that is the country – pigs, and chickens and of course – horses!
What do you think is next regarding trends in color, material, style, influence, historical period and locale?
E: Generally speaking, I think we are in a trend toward much quieter palettes. And most likely out of necessity. We are all a part of this insane, fast paced world, where everything is immediate and we are always reachable and frankly, doing too much. So I think people are craving some quiet. With that, to keep things interesting, a lot of the materials seem to be focused on texture and creating some warmth and drama in more subtle ways. That further takes us to the focus of our greater environment - recycling and sustainability and using more natural, raw materials.
B: There has been so much editing going on it seems in design, that I wonder if a touch of “more is more” isn’t coming back in some measure?
How do your clients find you?
E: We have been incredibly lucky to get clients entirely by word of mouth. Have never had a website, until just recently (which we hired Marisa to advise on), or done any type of social media. But we had to get with the times. So this has been another major learning curve for both Beth and me. But nowadays, you just have to have that kind of presence. Foreign as it was at first, it's actually been a fun process. We love instagram and can be found at @lyonfield
B: Mostly through referral. I have been really fortunate to have such a robust referral network that has led me to so many wonderful clients. I count most of them as friends!
What material do you love?
E: Right now, I can't get enough of mohair velvets. The texture and feel is incredible, without being overly formal.
B: So many. But I am a sucker for Lucite. My spaces are so layered in so many ways, that I appreciate the lack of visual space that a great Lucite piece offers. Not to mention the cool 70’s vibe it puts off – always says “fun” to me.
What design material or movement will never go out of style?
E: The mix of the "high/low" movement. Just like in fashion, to be head to toe in one designer, or all high-end runway looks is often a bore. Shows very little imagination or personal style. I just don't see that ever going out. Being able to strike that balance is what style is all about to me.
B: I’m going back to Billy. Timeless.
Where do you shop to get inspired?
E: Speaking of high low...my all-time-favorite way to spend a day is scouring a flea market. Can be the Paris fleas, with a healthy high/low funky mix - or even a down and dirty thrift shop on the side of a highway. A wealth of inspirational details are often lurking under layers and layers of dust!
B: Vintage anything gets my creative wheels a spinning. I absolutely love the uniqueness of a fabulous vintage piece with a story to tell. While of course, there is a need in every room for the basics, it is the treasure hunt that I love most. One thing I have learned in this business, is never to share a true secret!
What are your favorite useful apps and instagram feeds you are following?
E: Our brilliant finance manager just turned us onto an app called Hours Keeper. It's incredibly useful since a lot of what we do needs to be recorded by the project and hour. It's proving to be a lifesaver!
B: I am just warming up to this whole technology-social media business. Stay tuned on that one!
Beth's dogs, with human names, Veronica and Bunny